Paratroopers hit the silk for Leapfest competition

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SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. (WPRI) – The Rhode Island National Guard hosted an international parachute competition at the University of Rhode Island Saturday.

The annual “Leapfest” event draws teams of military paratroopers from across the world; this year 50 four-person teams competed.

Soldiers jump from CH-47 Chinook cargo helicopters, parachute to the ground, and attempt to reach a target “X” as fast as possible. Faster times mean higher scores.

This year, Megan Yarnell, of Maryland, said her father was making his last jump with his team.

Sgt. Yarnell’s family made the trip to Kingstown to watch him take the leap.

“We think it’s really cool,” Megan said. “He finds it very interesting and loves what he does. And if he had to go back and do it again, he would.”

Leapfest was established in 1982 and last year’s winning team was from the U.S. Army’s 19th Special Forces Group out of Utah. American units have taken home the most victories but past winners have included units from Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, Honduras and Tunisia. This year, teams from Italy and South Africa also competed.

National Guard officials say that the event highlights the training and camaraderie between the allied armies.

“Some of us have fought together in combat and we’re providing an environment to foster better international relations and frankly to enjoy the camaraderie of paratroopers from around the world,” said Lt. Col. David Neary of the National Guard.

Neary said he hopes Rhode Islanders are proud of the work the National Guard does – including leap fest – which is the longest running, largest parachute competition in the world.

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